Is CX another term for UX or Service Design? No, Not quite.

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Let’s level-set. The digital world is taking over, everyone is talking about ‘experience’ and -X abbreviated professions are on the rise. However, this doesn’t mean everything is a user experience (UX). CX overlaps with UX and Service Design (SD), yet each has its own focus and historic methodologies. Let’s take a look at each discipline to examine how they currently interact, and their potential intersect in the future.

What we’ll cover:

We are all people-centric

To get us started, let’s consider these disciplines in relation to our own customer lives. Think about your experience with a favorite brand - let’s say Nike. During your interaction with Nike’s products, services and brand activations, you used multiple channels. Perhaps you browsed their website, went to their store, called customer service and downloaded their app. Today, companies know each of these needs to be designed and managed with the customer in mind.

Enter in CX, UX and Service Design. Many times these disciplines get confused as they are all ultimately people-centric functions. Though the Nike example involves more functions than just the highlighted three, those play an important role. UX focuses on digital interactions; CX on end-to-end journeys with a governance lens; and SD on end-to-end journeys with a design process lens.

The tools, beliefs and even tasks are quite similar. Each uses in-depth research, personas, touchpoints, journey mapping, ideation techniques and validation methods to establish or improve an experience. It’s their focus and historic methodologies that differentiate these disciplines.

What is CX?

Customer experience (CX) considers the entire end-to-end journey for a customer, and its implication on business operations. They are concerned with how this entire experience is perceived by customers, elevates the brand, reflects the business strategy and affects company employees. For this reason, CXers often come from marketing, branding or business consultant roles.

CX can address the complete journey or key hubs like retail, hotels or customer care channels. Some CX careers focus on customer service management, as an example, as CX originated from customer service. However, today CX is more than customer service. It is often a cross-functional role that includes managing and governing cross-channel journeys. Job titles range from Customer Experience Manager to Customer Journey Experts, or even Customer Experience Officer (CXO). Though CX has been around for years, more companies are building out serious CX teams to govern the customer journey.

What is UX?

User experience (UX) considers the digital interactions users have with a singular product or service. UXers focus on the experience, touchpoints and journey for specific digital platform, such as an app, website or B2B software. They determine the interaction and functionality, however do not design the interface. This is the specialty of UI (user interface), even though UX/UI is a job function in some companies. Much of the thinking originates from industrial design, where the needs and desires of people drive the design process. Many of my RISD industrial design classmates went into UX, and the term ‘Product Design’, which used to be for physical objects, has been adopted by the digital and UX space.

We distinguish users from customers, as a customer (who is purchasing the product) is not always a user. An example would be SAP, where your company is the customer and employees are the users. Now, digital platforms like SAP can be very complex and in-depth, like mini worlds in themselves. This is why UX is an important profession within experience. Like CX, UX has its professional offshoots including UX Researcher, UX Content Strategy or the previously mentioned UX/UI combo.

What is Service Design?

This is the fun one of the bunch as Service Design (SD) can seem like it’s a bit of both CX and UX. As Service Design bridges physical, digital and organisational capabilities, it’s understandable the discipline gets reinterpreted or miscommunicated. For example, I have seen job titles that say ‘Service Design (UX)’, or someone’s online description of Service Design mirroring CX. Though some associate Service Design with UX due to SD’s design mindset, I believe it’s actually closer to CX.

Service design is concerned with how a service is orchestrated and executed. Much like CX, this discipline looks at the end-to-end journeys of a customer across different channels. However, the difference between SD and CX stands in their history. Both were functions of marketing at some point. However, SD took a liking to UX, and was viewed as an extension of the digital product. CX stayed more with the marketing cohorts, focusing on analytics and organisational management, while many times fumbling the design aspect. Thus, service design thinking is more design leaning, while CX thinking is more governance leaning.

How everything fits together

To summarise - CX is over the whole journey, UX the digital journey and Service Design also the whole journey. CX and SD overlap, yet have different focuses due to their methodological history. CX being more goverance-led and SD more design-led. Is CX the umbrella over SD? The answer to this is subjective to every author’s experience, and differs per organisation. As someone who spans both, I believe CX is over SD, as CX has a greater focus on long-term company operations and management. Thus, UX and SD are not alternative terms for CX, but the mixup is understandable.

Today, companies are adapting their organisational structures to better serve customers/users by creating CX, SD, UX or joint teams. However, it takes time and cultural change to integrate new functions and processes. You might be reading this to learn more about another field, or trying to figure out how your work fits into the experience matrix. Either way, know all disciplines can learn from each other. Each is people-centric, where every practitioner is hoping to make experiences better for companies and their customers.

Let’s summarise

  • Many times these disciplines get confused as they are all ultimately people-centric
  • CX considers the entire end-to-end journey, and its implication on business operations
  • UX considers the digital interactions users have with a singular product or service
  • Service Design (SD) can seem like it’s a bit of both CX and UX, though I believe it is closer to CX
  • Today, companies are adapting their organisational structures to better serve customers/users